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Landowners urged to band together, fight back against delinquent oil and gas companies

About two dozen landowners, farmers and ranchers met in Didsbury, Alta., on Saturday to get tips on how they can work together to push back against delinquent oil and gas companies.

'We wanted landowners to come together and learn what they can do about this crisis'

Regan Boychuk is with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project (ALDP). (Terri Trembath/CBC)

About two dozen landowners, farmers and ranchers met in Didsbury, Alta., on Saturday to get tips on how they can work together to push back against delinquent oil and gas companies.

"We wanted landowners to come together and learn what they can do about this crisis of unfunded oilfield cleanup and to reinforce this idea of collective self-help in rural Alberta," said Regan Boychuk of the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project (ALDP), a group which is pushing the province to hold companies accountable for neglecting obligations.

"We're hoping to send landowners home with things they can do … to start pushing for much-needed reform."

Rural municipalities recently revealed energy companies owe a total of $173 million in unpaid property taxes and many landowners feel they're getting the same short end of the stick. There are concerns about poor regulation of well cleanup and abandoned equipment. 

Most of Alberta's roughly 400,000 wells are on private property — and Boychuk said one way landowners can hold companies accountable is by terminating a company's lease if it hasn't paid its taxes, a clause Boychuk said many landowners don't realize is baked into their leases.

"There's just a lack of information about this stuff," he said.

I suspect people are going to be talking about the problem and the legacy of oil and gas … a thousand years from now…- Glenn Norman, landowner

But, he said momentum is going in the right direction.

"These issues have been simmering in Alberta for decades but they're coming to a head," he said.

Glenn Norman owns land near Bowden, and is vice president of the National Farmers Union. He's a third-generation farmer, who's concerned his and others' ability to farm will be diminished by orphaned wells.

"I suspect people are going to be talking about the problem and the legacy of oil and gas, the negative legacy, the liabilities, a thousand years from now because they're still going to be dealing with the problems from it," Norman said.

The ALDP said the workshop was being held one week after a call for direct action against companies by the Action Surface Rights Association, which asked farmers and ranchers to close valves and cut off power to energy company sites.

The Alberta Energy Regulator responded to that call for action by warning that any interference with infrastructure could lead to criminal charges. The AER has also been collecting a lower security deposit from some companies than is required for future cleanup.

Mark Dorin, with ALDP, said his family's health has been impacted by an abandoned well that was leaking gas on their land. He said he now volunteers to advocate for others 16 to 18 hours a day.

He said it's urgent that Albertans work together to call for reform.

"If we don't do this we have no Alberta, we have no future, we have no land, we have no clean air," he said.

With files from Terri Trembath, The Canadian Press

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